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“Hands off Africa! » : the pope denounces the foreign plunder of the Congo

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Hands off Africa

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Pope Francis on Tuesday demanded that foreign powers stop plundering Africa’s natural resources for the “poison of their own greed” as he arrived in Congo to a raucous welcome by Congolese grateful that he was bringing the world’s attention to their forgotten plight.

Hands off Africa

Tens of thousands of people lined the main road into the capital, Kinshasa, to greet Francis after he landed at the airport, some standing three or four deep, with children in school uniforms in the front row.

Hands off Africa

“The pope is 86 years old but he came anyway. It is a sacrifice and the Congolese people will not forget it,” said Sultan Ntambwe, a bank officer in his thirties, as he awaited the arrival of François in a scene reminiscent of some of François’ previous trips to equally strongly Catholic countries.

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Hands off Africa

Upon his arrival, Francis plunged headfirst into his program, denouncing the centuries-old exploitation of Africa by colonial powers, today’s multinational extractive industries and the interference of neighboring countries in Congo’s affairs. which led to an upsurge in fighting in the east.

Hands off Africa

“Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands Off Africa! François said to applause in his opening speech to Congolese government authorities and the diplomatic corps in the garden of the Kinshasa National Palace.

Hands off Africa

Calling Congo’s vast mineral and natural wealth a “diamond of creation”, Francis demanded that foreign interests stop carving up the country for their own interests and acknowledge their role in the economic “enslavement” of the Congolese people.

Hands off Africa

“Stop suffocating Africa: it is not a mine to be stripped or a ground to be plundered,” said the first Latin American pope in history, who has long railed against the way countries rich exploited the resources of the poor. those for their own profit.

Hands off Africa

The six-day trip, which also includes a stopover in South Sudan, was originally scheduled for July but was postponed due to Francis’ knee problems, which were still so bad on Tuesday that he couldn’t bear to wave to the journalists on the plane. was heading towards Kinshasa and forced him to use a wheelchair on the ground.

Hands off Africa

It was also supposed to have included a stopover in Goma in eastern Congo, but the surrounding North Kivu region has been plagued by intense fighting between the government soldiers and the rebel group M23, as well as attacks by militants linked to the Islamic State group.

The fighting has displaced some 5.7 million people, including a fifth last year alone, according to the World Food Programme.

Hands off Africa

Instead of going there, Francis will meet with a delegation of people from the East who will travel to Kinshasa for a private meeting at the Vatican Embassy on Wednesday. The plan calls for them to participate in a ceremony jointly pledging to forgive their abusers.

Sylvie Mvita, an economics student in Kinshasa, said the pope’s arrival would draw the world’s attention and TV cameras to Congo and the fighting in the east to show how his sufferings have been forgotten by the rest of the world. world.

Hands off Africa

“This will allow the world to learn about the atrocities suffered by our brothers in the east of the country. And maybe for once the little humanity left in some people will cause a wake up call and the international community will not only care about what is happening in Ukraine but also what is happening in this country.” , she said.

Hands off Africa

President Félix Tshisekedi took a similar line in his speech to the pope, accusing the international community of forgetting Congo and its complicit “inaction and silence” in the face of atrocities occurring in the east.

“In addition to armed groups, foreign powers hungry for minerals in our basement are committing cruel atrocities with the direct and cowardly support of our neighbor Rwanda, making security the first and greatest challenge for the government”, did he declare.

Rwanda has been accused – and repeatedly denied – of supporting M23 rebels operating in Congo.

Francis’ harsh words at the start set the tone for the journey, in which the pontiff aims to bring a message of peace, a warning to the international community not to look the other way, and a recognition that Africa is the future of Catholic Church. Church.

The continent is one of the only places on Earth where the Catholic flock is growing, both in terms of the practice of the faithful and new vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

And the Congo stands out as the African country with the most Catholics hands down: half of its 105 million inhabitants are Catholic, the country has more than 6,000 priests, 10,000 nuns and more than 4,000 seminarians – 3 .6% of the world total of young men studying for the priesthood.

This makes Francis’ trip, his fifth to the African continent in his 10-year pontificate, all the more significant as the Jesuit pope seeks to remodel the church into a “field hospital for wounded souls”, where all are welcome, the poor have a special place and rivals are invited to make peace.

Aid groups had hoped that Francis’ six-day visit would shine a light on the forgotten conflicts of Congo and South Sudan and their skyrocketing humanitarian costs, and rekindle international attention amid the fatigue of donors who s is set up due to new aid priorities in Ukraine.

Francis answered their call, pointing to the role colonial powers like Belgium played in exploiting the Congo until the country, which is 80 times the size of Belgium, gained independence in 1960. , and that neighboring countries are playing today.

Francis did not identify Belgium or any neighboring country by name, but he spared no words of condemnation, quoting Tshisekedi as saying there was a “forgotten genocide” underway.

“The poison of greed coated his diamonds with blood,” Francis said. “May the world recognize the catastrophic things that have been done over the centuries to the detriment of local people, and not forget this country and this continent.”

“We cannot get used to the bloodshed that has scarred this country for decades, causing millions of deaths that remain mostly unknown elsewhere,” he said.

At the same time, he urged the Congolese authorities to work for the common good and not for tribal, ethnic or personal interests; and ending child labor and investing in education so that Congo’s “most precious diamonds” can sparkle.

Congolese worshipers flocked to Kinshasa for Francis’ main event, a mass on Wednesday at Ndolo airport that is expected to draw up to 2 million people in one of the largest gatherings of its kind in Congo and one of the Francis’ greatest masses of all time.

Banners bearing the image of the pope carried messages including “Pope Francis, the city of Kinshasa welcomes you with joy”.

Some women wore colorful dresses and skirts made of loincloth, a wax-printed fabric depicting images of Francis, the Virgin Mary, or the keys to the Vatican, as a sign of festive welcome.

Jean-Louis Mopina, 47, said he walked about 45 minutes to Kinshasa airport before the pope arrived on Tuesday.

“He came as a pilgrim sent by God,” Mopina said. “His blessing will give us peace in our hearts.”


Christina Malkia in Kinshasa and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.


Associated Press religious coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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